Monday, 12 April 2010

A momentous day, in more ways than one

It's been quite a day. Our little girl has, on the third night of asking, fallen asleep in her first proper bed without the need to get in and out of it sixteen times in the space of twenty minutes. I am a relieved man, and yes, I'm fully aware of the dangers of speaking too soon.

Moreover, I managed to finish cooking the tea tonight without burning the joint of roast pork to a cinder, an achievement on a par with me managing to put up a blind over the weekend without a) cursing; b) injuring myself; and c) flouncing off in a DIY-induced huff. Not only am I a relieved man, I'm a changed man too.

That's not all. Two fairly momentous things happened over the last 24 hours. First, I finished a short story - yes, as in complete - for the first time since, oh, dinosaurs last walked the earth. I actually finished writing it a week ago, and have spent several days fretting about how crap it is and trying to polish it. More impressively, this evening I took the plunge and submitted it to a competition. It's only a small affair, and I've only done it to get a taste of entering stuff into competition, but it's a start. There are some pretty big comps coming up in the next few months, and I want to enter at least a couple. From small acorns, and all that.

The second momentous happening involves Quackenbush, the young adult adventure novel that is enjoying a longer gestation period than the frilled shark (three and a half years, apparently). Regular visitors will know I've been having a bit of a tempestuous relationship with QB. The first draft has been almost complete for some time, but other projects saw it put on hold, and I've recently been trying to edit and rewrite large swathes of it, without, it has to be said, a huge amount of success.

One of main problems with it has been the setting - it's based in and around the Isle of Man, and draws on Celtic mythology. I wasn't convinced that was anywhere near sexy enough to catch the eye of an agent or publisher, regardless of how strong I felt the characters and plot were. So I asked a contact, someone with oodles of experience within publishing, what he thought.

Isle of Man? No major problem. Celtic mythology? Might be a little old hat, but could work. Can you give me the basic plot, says he? Here you go, says I.

He came back to me with two points - and each of them had me laughing. Not because they were ridiculous; no, they were so bloody insightful that I couldn't believe I'd missed them. The suggestions? One is based around the background to our young hero, Tom, who up to now has been a local Manx lad - in a nutshell, the adventure comes to him. That in itself might not sound like an issue, but think of all the exciting adventure yarns you've either read or watched on the big screen - the vast majority feature an outsider turning up in an unfamiliar place. As my advisor said, as the reader you're effectively seeing the story from the hero's point of view - so you are experiencing the story as it happens to them. That's point one.

Point two: what the hell do you need this Quackenbush character for? For background, QB is a bit of a legend, a cool dude who doesn't take shit from anyone. In the draft as it stands, Tom and he team up - but today's puzzler was, why? Why give Tom a partner who is so tough and cool, it's pretty bloody obvious from the get-go that they're going to succeed. Where is the sense of danger in that, the excitement?

Nowhere, is the answer. Why can't Tom take on the villainous adults on his lonesome? Have him endure all manner of hell and pain and come out the other side? Absolutely no reason whatsoever.

So, I have some thinking to do. If I'm going to follow these new directions, it will mean wholesale changes to the manuscript. The plot itself can remain reasonably unchanged - but huge chunks would need to be scrapped, other sections totally rewritten and several characters removed entirely from the story. In other words, a major, long-term project.

Right now, it's all a bit fresh. I don't know if I can face restructuring the story at this moment in time. I'm itching to write, not rewrite and edit. So it may be that I turn my focus to another project for the time being. I'm not sure. Either way, I don't want to rush it. As we say in Manxland, 'ta traa dy lioar ayn' - there's time enough.

Still, at least I've got the short story machine finally firing. I'll focus on churning out a few more of those while the old brain decides what it wants to do with QB. I can't wait to find out. The suspense is killing me.

Monday, 5 April 2010

John Quirk - an obituary

Today marks the first full day of my fifth decade on this planet. That word, fifth, is mighty bloody scary. Reaching forty is bad enough, but realising that you're now marching towards fifty gives rise to a particular dread if you're someone who is petrified of dying.

When I fired up the the laptop yesterday, the big day itself, to check emails, a few were my daily deliveries from Google alerts - I've set a few up, including one for this blog, two for Manx Giant and Manx Connection, and my name. It's good to have a heads up if someone is ripping you to pieces, and nice to be able to thank those who link something nice to you.

I checked the first few yesterday and there was nothing of note. But then I clicked open the 'John Quirk' alert. On a day when I was already subjecting myself to the great 'what I have done with my life so far' scrutiny, and was only too aware of my advancing age following an accident involving our little princess, a trampoline and my back, the one link in the alert did nothing to cheer me up.

The title read: John Quirk Obituary

It's really not the kind of thing you want to be reading on the day when everyone says life begins. Morbid curiousity made me click on the link to see which poor sod had died. It turned out to be a John C Quirk, 72, from Minnesota, so he at least enjoyed a reasonable innings. What it did strike home is the fact that, assuming I too am lucky enough to enjoy a decent innings, the chances are I'm around halfway through that innings, and quite probably over the halfway mark.

It's a sobering train of thought. I'm not going to inflict more pressure on myself by vowing that 'this will be the year when I make that fiction breakthrough and strike a publishing deal'... blah blah blah.

I've done it before, and it doesn't work. You've just got to keep chipping away, and hope that one day your big break will arrive. There is, however, a sense of purpose forming in my mind, unlike anything I've experienced before. It's a determination to work even harder to achieve my goals. That's not to say I've not worked hard in the past, but I'm my own harshest critic, and there have been years I've wasted.

As the years slip past, you realise there will be fewer opportunities to do the things you want to do, so in turn you have to make sure you don't waste them. When the call does come from the Big Guy upstairs, the one thing I don't want to do is click on my obituary from whatever heavenly internet cafe I'm in at the time and feel that I've not achieved what I set out to do. Because that would really piss me off.

So, it's time for action stations. Time to get cracking. Or it will be, when this bloody back sorts itself out...